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For the complete essay, see Tarot.com:
A Brief History of the Golden Dawn
Eliphas Levi made quite an impression on the English Rosicrucians in 1853 when he visited Rosicrucian friends in London. One of those friends, Fred Hockley, decided to send his young apprentice, Kenneth R.H. MacKenzie, to visit Levi in Paris and find out more on the state of Levi's research into the mysteries of the Tarot. The two men visited several times over the course of a few days in the winter of 1861, and MacKenzie took copious notes.
Four years later in England, a Rosicrucian group was formed called the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, and it was made up of master Masons only. Kenneth R.H. MacKenzie was one of its earliest members, along with the Rev. A.F.A. Woodford (co-compiler with MacKenzie of the Masonic Cyclopedia published in 1887), W. Wynn Wescott and S.L. MacGregor Mathers. Twenty years later, this same group (minus Woodford) were still associates, between them founding the Golden Dawn.
Even in these early years before the Golden Dawn, MacKenzie was fascinated with Eliphas Levi, so when he went on that visit to Paris in 1861 he made every effort to cultivate a personal relationship with Levi despite their language barrier. In the detailed notes he kept about their meetings, he enthused that theirs was a profound meeting of occult minds and that they shared ideas and compared experiences like old friends. A decade later he published an article about their meeting in the Rosicrucian, the short-lived magazine of the Societas Rosicruciana, describing a number of the subjects they had covered in their wide-ranging discussions.
This meeting had taken place before any of Levi's work had been translated into English, so MacKenzie was in effect helping the English Masons and Rosicrucians "discover" the important contributions that Levi was making through his publishing and teaching in France. At the point the article was published, Levi had been the Supreme Grand Master of the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis of Europe (with the exception of England) for over sixteen years already, and was to hold the position for two more years until his death.
Because of their imperfect French/English communications (neither spoke each other's language), the exchange was bound to be a bit inexact. MacKenzie, well-known as a creative ritualist and connoisseur of magical codes and cyphers, had wanted to show Levi some correspondences he had worked out for the links between Tarot and the Christian Cabbalah. It is not entirely clear whether Levi was responsive to these ideas or not because the only version of events ever reported was MacKenzie's.
For whatever reason, somewhere in the decade between the meeting and the publication of his article MacKenzie conceived the idea that Levi had intentionally "blinded" the astro-alphanumeric correspondences he used when talking about the Major Arcana of Tarot in his books. This is actually true of Etteilla, an earlier member of Levi's esoteric "lineage" in France, so perhaps this seemed a logical assumption at the time.
But in truth, as we have shown in other chapters, Levi was faithfully reporting the correspondences as they had come down through the Hermetic/Alexandrian writers of the first and second centuries AD, which then were picked up by the Renaissance magi during the Hermetic Revival. Levi did insert one correction into the ancient pattern of correspondences, but it was subtle and did not change the ancient number/letter connections, only two Arcana that were switched between the last two letter/numbers (see "The Continental Tarots").
MacKenzie Devises His Own System
Recalling that MacKenzie, Wescott and Mathers were lodge members in the Societas for years before the Golden Dawn was ever conceived, we probably can assume that they would talk to each other about their studies and their personal spiritual work. It is through this friendly association that Wescott learned of MacKenzie's project of "adjusting" the system that Levi had taught. Eventually MacKenzie's adjustment blossomed into an entire system of his own, but in his lifetime he never shared the details with Wescott and Mathers. It came into their hands only after MacKenzie died in 1886, when his impovershed widow was forced to sell the manuscript to Wescott.
The official story goes that in 1885, after the death of Fred Hockley, MacKenzie's mentor, a "cypher manuscript" was "discovered" among his personal effects. Because Hockley, the man who first introduced MacKenzie and Levi, was an avid collector of ancient magical texts, the Golden Dawn founders were able to claim they had discovered a cache of esoteric rituals and teachings that seemed ancient, authentic and more accurate than those of the French lodges. Among the papers was found a set of astro-alphanumeric correspondences that appeared to them to correct the "blind" they felt existed in Levi's work.
Three years passed between the "discovery" of the cypher manuscript and the founding of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Ostensibly, in that interval they were translating the manuscript, deducing that it described the workings of a German lodge, gaining permission to convene an English branch of this lodge, and fleshing out the quasi-Masonic rituals for their own use. The first lodge of the new order was founded March 1, 1888.
Let us remember what Dr. Keizer mentions in his essay "The Esoteric Origins of the Tarot": "The synthesis they created for the Golden Dawn rituals combined Rosicrucian and Christian Cabbalistic doctrine with the kind of layout used on a Masonic floor. The floor and officers represented Sephiroth, and initiation from 0=0 to 5=6 represented the upward ascent from Malkuth to Tiphareth." If we review the essay "The Confluence of the Ancient Systems," we can see what a challenging and sophisticated task they set themselves to.
The Story Comes Apart
Occult scholar R.A. Gilbert eventually managed to see through this myth of origins, revealing that MacKenzie (possibly with the aid of his old friend the Rev. A.F.A. Woodford) had superimposed the new correspondences onto the Renaissance Christian Cabbalah model (see "Kabbalah/Cabbalah") in such a way that they could present the "correction" as another historical tradition. Then, when it came into the hands of Wescott and Mathers, it was fleshed out into an entire lodge and grade system based upon the new correspondences. In this way, their new Secret Society had genuine traditional-seeming secrets of its own.
The deception was revealed to the rest of the members of the Order of the Golden Dawn in 1900, upon the appearance of an American woman calling herself "Madame Horos." She was passing herself off as the fabled German source of the cypher manuscript, the woman who had supposedly obtained for Wescott and Mathers the charter for their English lodge. Madame Horos presented herself to MacGregor Mathers as having come to help them with their "Isis movement" (the mother lodge of the Golden Dawn was called the Isis-Urania Temple). He formally introduced her to his group, the Ahathoor Lodge, as the very woman who had been their contact with the original German lodge.
It is not at all clear why he would do such a thing, as subsequent events show that he knew she was a fraud. The very day that Madame Horos was intro duced to his group, Mathers wrote a letter to Florence Farr, one of the most active of the founding women of the Golden Dawn, denouncing Wescott and calling into question Wescott's avowed connection with the Secret Chiefs of the order. Mathers was clearly rattled, angry and feeling betrayed by the appearance of the impostor Madame Horos, as well as by internal difficulties that were threatening to break up his lodge from within. In the state of mind he found himself in that day, he must have felt he had nothing to lose. Upon receiving this devastating news, Flo-rence Farr, who was a scrupulously honest soul, meditated on what to do. She formed a seven-member committee to investigate the matter. Together they wrote a letter to Mathers asking him to either prove or disprove these very serious allegations. He refused to answer any questions, pro or con, and dismissed Florence summarily from the Order.
Over the next few years, amidst much acrimony, the Golden Dawn flew into fragments, with each founder accusing the other of intellectual dishonesty of various kinds. MacGregor and his wife Moina Mathers were expelled from the Golden Dawn, Florence eventually resigned, and the movement, so illustrious at the outset, became principally a legend in its own time.
Twelve years after the dissolving of the original lodge, Aleister Crowley, himself a member, published the Golden Dawn astro-alphanumeric correspondences along with their grade rituals and other materials that had previously been kept private. People have responded warmly to the system as set forth by Crowley, so it has continued in use and has spread around the world.
"Sacred Activism is the fusion of the mystic's passion for God with the activist's passion for justice, creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart that longs to help, preserve, and nurture every living thing." - Andrew Harvey
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